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Scents and Sensibilities – What Smells Do Dogs Hate?

At A Glance

Humans have about 10,000 olfactory receptors, which is nothing compared to the 300 million receptors present in canines. Needless to say, dogs have a more sensitive nose than humans.

Which is why they hate some smells more than others. For example:

  • Acidic, pungent, or bitter scents could be overpowering.
  • Dogs also stay away from certain smells because of their toxicity.

Last Updated on: Aug 09, 2023

Have you ever witnessed your dog smell something it didn’t like? My beagle Dex jumps back and dramatically jerks his head as if he were being punched in the face. His reaction always amuses me, especially because he doesn’t react the same way when he gets stinky.

This gagging motion is more common in dogs than you know. After all, they do have stronger smell receptors than us. They use their nose not only to track scents miles away but also to perceive their environment.

It’s hard to imagine how strongly they sense smells so close to them. But it’s also made me wonder: What smells do dogs hate?

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What’s the Sniff About?

Scientific research reveals that dogs may hate the smell of certain objects and substances because of their incredible sense of smell, which happens to be 10,000 to 100,000 times more acute than humans.

Poor Dex. That orange might very well be punching him in the face with its odor, as far as he’s concerned!

Dogs were originally bred to be hunters, guard dogs, and trackers. This explains why their noses are incredibly hypersensitive. But this also explains why they actively avoid smells that may harm or hurt them.

Dogs use their sense of smell to perceive the environment and locate things. According to VCA Animal Hospitals, “The dog’s sense of smell is so adept that a blind dog has much less difficulty adjusting to the loss of vision than a human does.”

They also have a vomeronasal organ on the roof of their mouths, allowing them to sense chemical signals, such as pheromones, that are invisible to the naked eye. This is why your dog senses you from a mile away.

Canine cognition expert Alexandra Horowitz shares that our smell is one of the first things our dogs use to recognize us. “To our dogs, we are our scent”, Horowitz shares.

Smells Your Dog Cannot Stand

what smells do dogs hate - smells your dog cannot stand

Returning to the original question: What smells do dogs hate the most?

Here they are:

Citrus Scents

We may love the fresh smell of citrus in our homes, but dogs do not share this sentiment. Citrus fruits like lemons, limes, and oranges are acidic and toxic to dogs, especially the skin and seeds.

Lemon, in particular, contains psoralen, a chemical that can cause severe gastrointestinal disturbances in dogs. That said, not all citrus fruits harm dogs; they might find the odor overbearing. The flesh of oranges, for example, is okay to feed your dog, but some dogs may find the smell extremely irritating.


It’s no secret that the scent of vinegar is overpowering even to humans, let alone dogs. Vinegar, commonly used for cooking and cleaning, has a distinct flavor profile and excellent odor-neutralizing properties.

However, most dogs may find the smell unpleasant, especially of white vinegar. While the scent is not toxic to dogs, ingesting vinegar may cause stomach upset.

Pro Tip: Use vinegar as a cleanser on spots where your pup has accidentally urinated. It will neutralize the smell of pee and discourage your dog from peeing in the same place again.

Rubbing Alcohol

Any alcohol or spirit is strong, and rubbing alcohol is no different. The smell of rubbing alcohol is strong enough for our noses – to dogs, it’s much worse. The smell can be irritating and cause a burning sensation in dogs’ throats and noses when inhaled.

Additionally, ingesting alcohol is incredibly dangerous to dogs and can lead to gastrointestinal issues, causing alcohol poisoning. For this reason, most dogs will keep away from an area cleaned with rubbing alcohol.

However, avoid rubbing alcohol to keep your dog away from a certain area, as it may irritate its eyes, nose, mouth, and skin upon contact.

Fresh Herbs

If you love gardening but hate when your dog starts digging around – literally – you might want to add a few fresh herbs to your garden.

Dogs hate the pungent smell of herbs like rosemary, basil, and mint. Mint, in particular, is unappealing to dogs. Although it’s not toxic, it is a great deterrent in areas you don’t want your dogs to access.

Did you know that doggy dental treats contain small doses of mint? The herb is an excellent way to refresh your pet’s breath; however, it should only be used in small amounts.

Cleaning Products & Chlorine

what smells do dogs hate - cleaning products & chlorine

Even humans find the smell of chlorine and chemical cleaning products offensive, so you can only imagine how intensely dogs sense it.

Dogs particularly hate the smell of chlorine and ammonia, common ingredients in household cleaners. When cleaning your home, it’s best to keep dogs away from cleaning products and their fumes.

Use a baby gate or keep your dog occupied in another room with the door closed so it doesn’t irritate their skin, nose, and eyes.


People love using mothballs to store clothes and sheets, but the smell can be too overpowering for your canine companion. Paradichlorobenzene and naphthalene, the two harmful chemicals in mothballs, have a pungent odor that many seem to like.

But be warned! While they may look unassuming, they’re highly toxic to dogs and may cause serious health issues when inhaled over a long period. Naphthalene, in particular, is a known carcinogen known to cause diseases like cancer.

Hot Peppers

Black pepper and cayenne pepper irritate dogs and may cause them to sneeze or wheeze. Dogs also hate fresh chili peppers, jalapenos, and poblano peppers.

Capsaicin, the chemical compound in chilies, brings about a burning sensation that may be harmful and stressful to your dog. In some cases, it may also cause severe digestive and respiratory issues.


Dogs have a love-hate relationship with scents. Not all dogs react to the same smells in the same manner, which is why perfume is highly subjective. While aromatic essential oils and denatured alcohol in most fragrances are pungent to dogs, not all may react the same way.

This also applies to dog shampoos and deodorants. I recommend staying away from strong scents to keep your dog out of harm’s way.


Garlic is highly toxic to dogs, which would explain why they hate the smell of it. Consequently, people use garlic juice with water in a spray bottle to repel dogs.

This, however, has raised considerable concerns, as dogs may accidentally ingest the mixture. Thiosulfate, a toxic substance present in garlic, causes red blood cell damage and anemia in canines. It’s best to avoid garlic – juice or whole – when around canines.


what natural smells do dogs hate - eucalyptus

While eucalyptus may be a godsend to humans, our dogs might as well call it a curse. Eucalyptus irritates dogs’ nasal passages and causes their eyes to water, so it’s best to steer clear of this oil, especially in large volumes.

If you use an essential oil diffuser, choose a dog-friendly oil like lavender. Eucalyptus works great as a natural repellent if it’s diluted in water and mixed well inside a spray bottle.

Nutmeg & Cinnamon

Ground spices like nutmeg and cinnamon are pungent to dogs and may irritate. This also applies to other ground spices like allspice, cardamom, ginger, etc.

That said, cinnamon is non-toxic to dogs, but nutmeg is. It contains a harmful chemical called myristicin that can cause seizures, hallucinations, rapid heartbeat, and high blood pressure in dogs.

Citronella Oil

Citronella is an effective and fresh-smelling bug repellent commonly used in topical sprays, candles, and lotions. However, dogs cannot stand to smell it. It’s also toxic to them and may cause digestive and skin irritation when touched or ingested.

Coffee Grounds

Brewing a fresh pot of coffee may be your idea of a great morning, but it’s not something your dog particularly enjoys. Dogs find the smell of coffee too strong and off-putting.

If commonly used as a dog repellent. If you wish to use it, consider decaffeinated grounds wrapped securely in a sealed plastic container with holes for ventilation. Caffeine is toxic to dogs, so it’s important to use it carefully.


Dogs find the smell of tobacco unpleasant, whether it’s from the plant itself, cigarettes, or other smoking paraphernalia. In addition to being harmful to them, tobacco is simply not something dogs enjoy smelling.

If you smoke tobacco indoors or near your dog, the odor and nicotine can stick to upholstery and your dog’s fur, causing it to inhale it unwittingly. Moreover, second-hand smoke is proven to be toxic.

Frequently Asked Questions

What Smells Will Keep Dogs Away?

Dogs don’t like intense or acidic scents. Vinegar is generally safe for dogs and can be a better option than other repellants like coffee or garlic juice. Apple cider vinegar is a great alternative because the smell is pungent.

What Smell Do Dogs Hate To Pee On?

Citrus, vinegar, alcohol, chili, and coffee are the top smells discouraging dogs from peeing on something. Vinegar is commonly used to neutralize odors and can specifically be used to clean areas where dogs have peed.

If you don’t have an enzymatic cleanser on hand, vinegar can work just as well in deterring dogs from peeing where they shouldn’t.

What Smells Make Dogs Aggressive?

Ammonia-based cleaners and strong perfumes may trigger aggression in certain dogs. Also, some essential oils like eucalyptus, camphor, and tea tree oil may irritate your dog’s nose and cause them to become agitated because they’re uncomfortable.

Why Are Dogs Afraid of Lemons?

what natural smells do dogs hate - why are dogs afraid of lemons

Lemons have a robust citrus aroma stronger than other citrus fruits, causing dogs to stay away from them.

Lemon peels and seeds are unsafe for dogs to consume, especially because lemon has psoralen, which irritates a dog’s digestive system. All these factors, including the bitter taste, cause dogs to stay miles away from lemons.

What Smells Do Sniffer Dogs Hate?

Sniffer dogs hate the strong odors of coffee grounds, perfume, ammonia, and anything that might be too overpowering.

However, it’s unlikely that these smells will throw them off, detecting other substances, like weapons or drugs. Sniffer dogs are highly-trained and can still discern target scents masked by layers of odors.

What Natural Smells Do Dogs Hate?

Dogs hate the smell of spices, citrus fruits, chili peppers, and herbs. Some dog owners use dog-safe plants to keep their pets away from certain areas, like gardens or vegetable patches. These plants include rosemary, lavender, lemongrass, and lemon thyme.



Meet Paul, a devoted dog dad to the delightful French Bulldog, Cofi. With a flair for humor and a deep understanding of Frenchie quirks, Paul brings a lighthearted touch to his writings. His relatable stories and practical insights are a blend of laughter and valuable advice and resonate with fellow dog owners.

Through his words, Paul aims to celebrate the joys and challenges of being a dedicated pet parent, reminding you that life is simply better with a four-legged, snorting sidekick by your side.